Telling The Overlooked Story Of Strokes : Shots - Health News People are fatalistic about strokes, assuming treatments are limited. But clot-busting medicine can aid some people, and rehabilitation can help survivors regain their lives.
NPR logo Telling The Overlooked Story Of Strokes

Telling The Overlooked Story Of Strokes

For a long time we've thought it's odd that so little attention is paid to strokes.

Find a certified stroke center by clicking here./Find a certified stroke center by clicking here.
Click on image to find a certified stroke center
Find a certified stroke center by clicking here./Find a certified stroke center by clicking here.

Nearly seven million Americans have had one, and about 800,000 strike every year. More people die of stroke (about 143,000) than from any other illness except heart disease and cancer. Nothing causes more permanent disability.

Maybe it's because people (doctors and laypeople alike) are fatalistic about strokes. They assume that they're not like heart attacks, where fast action with drugs, artery-clearing devices and bypass surgery routinely return the stricken to years of robust health.

Stroke specialists say it'll be a long time before strokes can be as reliably aborted as heart attacks. Yet for 13 years there's been an approved drug, called tissue plasminogen activator, that can dissolves clots that block the flow of blood to the brain when given to the right patients soon after symptoms appear.

But experts say only a fraction of eligible stroke patients get t-PA, as the drug is called for short.

The reasons are complicated and fraught with controversy. You can listen to a Morning Edition report on one Massachusetts woman for whom everything went right, and we'll have more on NPR.org, too. You'll be able to watch an audio slide show about a Maryland man who is making a comeback from a massive stroke. We've already put together a database you can use to find the nearest certified stroke treatment center.

On Monday at noon E.S.T. you can join me on the Shots blog for a live Web chat on with Dr. Lee Schwamm, a neurologist who directs the stroke center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The project is the brainchild of my colleague Tracy Wahl and me. She's a producer on Morning Edition, and her mother suffered a severe stroke 10 years ago. Through great determination and discipline, Tracy's mom has reclaimed an active and normal life. My mother died of a second stroke when she was at the beginning of middle age and I was in high school.

So we know what stroke can do to individuals and families. Now we invite you to share your stroke stories, too.

About